The Heart Of A Leader

I spend a lot of my time sitting in the bleachers, watching my kids play their favorite sports. Random thoughts go through my head and I always think I really should write them down. This time I did. During a recent game – unusually on a Saturday instead of a Friday night because of a rescheduled game, I watched my son take the field in his white and light blue jersey with lucky number 7 on the back in his position as linebacker for the Knights. At the beginning of the second half, he suffered an injury that was painful to watch and is even harder to recall. It was the kind of moment when your feet feel like cement and you can’t process what’s happening. I saw worried looks and felt encouraging squeezes on my shoulders from other moms. It’s the moment we all dread as football parents or as parents of any child who plays any sport. The experience, which does have a happy ending, taught me more about perseverance than anything I have encountered in my life up to this point.

As a co-captain on his high school football team, our family watched my 17-year old son tough it out through two-a-day practices, challenging opponents and a college prep course load unlike any we had in the 80s when I was in high school. But it was this injury that threatened to sideline him, the week of a do-or-die game, that would send his team to the playoffs or home for the season, which showed me he had the heart of a leader. He willed himself to succeed, overcoming injury and motivating himself to not fail his team no matter what. He kept repeating “I will be ok; I have to be ok.” And, I realized I recognized those words. They were my own.

Three years ago, when starting my agency, I did not have a business plan. I did not have a partner and I did not start with one client. I did not have a job and I also was still recovering from cancer. Talk about a series of reasons to persevere! I wondered if it was a sign – I had spent many years working around the clock as a broadcast journalist – was I supposed to take a break and focus on myself? Or was it a test – of the persistence and commitment I’d been training and building throughout my career? Like my son, I didn’t want to turn back, I had a goal that was too important to me. I needed to persevere. I told myself I would not fail. I could not fail. I had a fire in me that was burning. It still burns to this day.

Perseverance is a trait most of us possess but many of us don’t realize we have, until a circumstance, often beyond our control and out of our reach, calls us to dig deep. I was reminded of my own perseverance as I saw my son demonstrate his. From the dreaded, scary moments in the stands to seeing him transform into a leader, I felt pride, amazement and respect.

As the leader of my own organization, I recognize my employees, co-workers, spouse, and friends all will face make-it-or-break-it situations in their lives. One of my cornerstones as a parent and professional is to foster leadership in others. Here is how I do it:

Remember we are all students – regardless of position in an organization, recognize everyone has something to teach others, especially if they tackle a situation differently than you. Never stop learning and listening to others.

Learn to lean on yourself – trust your gut, listen to your heart and confidently forge ahead. Most of us don’t realize the inner strength we have until we need it.

Build your leadership style – entrepreneurs need to own their strengths and weaknesses as a leader in order to succeed. For some, having the big idea and finding others to execute it is the key to success. Others enjoy rehabbing a tired brand or product. Find your strength and work with others who compliment you.

Know when to ask for help – this is a critical skill for leaders who are often independent and driven. Be mindful of when to call in reinforcements if a situation is too hard to overcome on your own.

When my son asked me to help him rehab his injury, provide ice, carry him to the car, drive him to school or talk to his trainers and coaches, I did. He realized he needed help to reach his goal. He persevered and didn’t miss a practice and was there to lead his team in the pre-game chant. I realized I showed up to attain my dreams during and after my treatments as well. In the process, I taught and learned the importance of how to persevere, overcome and not give up. And I am super proud to say his team made it to the playoffs and we are celebrating that as we will forever have that as a memory of his high school football season!